Addiction, second chances, and the mother-son dynamic intertwine in the directorial debut by Dallas native Chase Joliet. “Grapefruit” features accomplished performances by screen veteran Rosanna Arquette, Joliet, and Steph Barkley who brings the right amount of humor to the indie drama. The story centers around a parolee who moves in with his sober mother while trying to start over, when he meets a recovering addict at an AA meeting, her quirky personality at times overwhelming, as the three adults create a triangle of recovery in the heartfelt film that doesn’t pull punches while conveying the message that we all need a support system to get through life’s obstacles.
Shot in Tracy, CA which could easily pass for a West Texas town, the film opens as divorced Travis (Joliet) is released from prison after being convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He moves back in with his sober mother Evelyn played by Arquette known for memorable performances that include “After Hours,” “Desperately Seeking Susan,” and “Pulp Fiction.” The BAFTA-winning actress notoriously tackles offbeat roles that require a dose of neurosis in every character.
Joliet’s performance immediately reminds me of three or four people I know, a testament to its genuineness. Early in the film, there’s a great scene that establishes the love-hate relationship between Travis and Evelyn. “Are you still wearing your wedding ring?” she asks. “F-ck, mom!” he replies, becoming instantly agitated. The scene quickly escalates into a shouting match. “Please don’t tell me you’re still in love with her!” snaps Evelyn, as composer c.a. gabriel’s throbbing score builds tension. Mothers will do anything to protect their children. Evelyn is domineering and her reaction seems a bit overboard, but it’s understandable once Travis’ backstory is revealed.
Evelyn is three years sober and Travis is required to stay off drugs and attend weekly meetings as part of his probation. He begins going to AA with his mother where he meets quirky Billie (Barkley) a recovering addict who despite her outgoing personality never seems to share her feelings during the therapy sessions. She’s big on “first impressions” as evidenced in a funny scene where she helps Travis work on his first impression by making him walk in and out of the facility until he gets it right. “No that wasn’t good. You didn’t smile” she tells Travis while reminding him that he only has three seconds to make a good impression. He’s not into Billie’s RP exercise, but feeling coerced he tries again.
From the first time Barkley appears on screen you begin falling in love with her character. Billie’s fireball personality and strong sense of humor add levity to Joliet’s screenplay. There is a great “When Harry Met Sally” diner scene (a quasi-date) where Travis and Billie get to know each other. It turns into a hilarious role-playing exercise as the two pretend to bail on the lunch after realizing they must get back to work. It’s refreshing, beautifully written, and perfectly acted by the two actors whose chemistry may come from the fact that they are married in real life (spoiler?). As Billie would say “whomp whomp” in a game-over lofty manner.
As romance slowly creeps into the heavy drama, moments of beauty develop in scenes that include Billie and Travis late-night dancing in the middle of the street sans music and a scene where they sit on a lawn watching an older couple through the windows of a suburban home. Travis explains, “I’d come out here and watch this normal family do normal things” after his alcoholic mother would go on a bender leaving him and his brother alone during childhood.
At times the drama becomes explosive as the film’s three broken protagonists relapse only to realize how their strength lies in the support they are capable of giving each other. You may not be able to relate first-hand to the experiences of these characters, but you will be able to relate to overcoming life’s obstacles and the challenges of starting over.
“Grapefruit” is moving, funny, and a bit terrifying as we watch the characters navigate through a life where at any moment, for no given reason the scene could turn volatile. As a film journalist, my passion for writing comes from being able to cover indie films like Joliet’s “Grapefruit” filled with authentic emotions, lifelike characters, and relatable human drama.
Chase Joliet, a Dallas native who grew up in the Metroplex, based his story on people he knew battling substance abuse and addiction, including himself. His wife Steph Barkley helped shape Joliet’s character after going through a divorce adding to the film’s authenticity. The performances are first-rate. Rosanna Arquette is the best she’s ever been, and Barkley steals the show. A must-see film.
“Grapefruit” screens today, Saturday, November 4th, at 2:30 PM as part of the Lone Star Film Festival. Writer/Director Chase Joliet and Actor Stephanie Barkley will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening.
For more information and tickets go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/grapefruit-feature-narrative-tickets-731357799867?aff=oddtdtcreator